January 31, 2008

Cultural Quotient

In a recent post on this blog (roam2rome), "farfallina" introduced a new kind of "Q" that has recently entered the scene following in the footsteps of IQ and EQ, the CQ (Cultural Quotient). The concept was first presented three years ago in the Harvard Business Review as the “essential factor of our times” without which, “NO one is going to be even remotely successful in this Millennium”. The business community is getting all excited about it and is using the term more and more.

The post continued, "I would love to see Elizabeth tackle this subject in my favorite Rome blog “Cross Cultural Moments”. So, I take up the challenge.

To start, what is it? Wikipedia says,"Cultural Intelligence, Cultural Quotient or CQ, is a theory within management and organisational psychology, positing that understanding the impact of an individual's cultural background on their behaviour is essential for effective business, and measuring an individual's ability to engage successfully in any environment or social setting. First described by Christopher Earley and Elaine Mosakowski in the October 2004 issue of Harvard Business Review and gaining acceptance throughout the business community, CQ teaches strategies to improve cultural perception in order to distinguish behaviours driven by culture from those specific to an individual, suggesting that allowing knowledge and appreciation of the difference to guide responses results in better business practice.

Golly gosh, someone has finally gotten it! Although with fancier words, it is what I have been talking about in my blog for over a year now (and in training workshops and presentations before that). For me, CQ is about understanding how your own culture background effects the success of your intercultural dealings and allowing an appreciating of the differences to guide your interactions.

I hope that the CQ concept will move the international business community away from preaching "adapting behaviors" as the solution to cross-cultural differences in doing business. Mocking behaviors only makes you look like a monkey unless there is a true and genuine understanding and respect behind them.

Roam2rome's post is quite timely. Just yesterday on the train to Trento, I threw out the text I had been finalizing for a website and started again from scratch. I am moving my emphasis from cross-cultural training and consulting to concentrate on intercultural and expat coaching. After my first month of teleclasses and readings, I am convinced that coaching is a much more effective way to support my vision of, "A world in which people have a deep understanding of, and respect for, the power of culture – they are humbled by, and marvel at, the wonder of cross-cultural differences." Cross-cultural training gives you tools, information and proper behaviors to follow, but coaching can help you achieve a true shift in perspective that is at the base of suspending judgement and successfully crossing cultures.

Whew! enough for today.

a domani (from Trento),


MattMacL said...

Great post - and mostly I agree with what you're saying.

I believe that you're right in that mimicking behaviours can lead to worse misunderstandings than being ignorant in the first place.

However I am a firm believer that it is essential to be aware of the cultural niceties. Adapting one's own behaviour, whether through training or coaching (or hypnosis or mediation, or you other chosen method) is doomed in the long run. Anything we do "unnaturally" will seem insincere and awkward - mostly becuase it is exactly that. However being aware of the cultural values of your own society/background/company/generation and that of the person you are dealing with, can mean that communications are simpler, easier to understand and less likely to cause offense. It's not only about (not) causing offence though. In business, knowledge of the negotiating style of a culture can be an advantage - especially if they are trying to adapt their behaviour patterns to match yours (i.e. had superficial cultural training). For them the behaviours are forced, unnatural; where as the culturally aware are acting from a much stronger position, while retaining their core cultural values

Chris said...

I read Farfallina's blog as well and through her blogroll I found yours. Interesting concept "C.Q.", and I think one that won't gain full appreciation for years.

In glancing over your blog I had a chance to read some of your other posts, intriguing to say the least. I look forward to reading more...

Elizabeth Abbot said...

Welcome Matt and Chris.
Thanks for stopping by.
Chris, I see you are doing the St.John's MBA program which should approach global business at some point in the program and now you know about CQ! I'd be glad to stop by and do a presentation on cross-cultural skills.

Matt, a colleague I see (took a peek at your blog). So true all you say. While you work with pre-departure, I work with those on site and dealing with the messy, tricky real living across cultures day by day which takes being your genuine self while being curious and thoughtful about other ways of being and doing -- not always an easy task in practice and we all need help before, during and after an assignment. Let's keep in touch.